Photo: Michael Rooks / SpaceX

The SpaceX Dragon capsule is being prepped for its maiden voyage at Cape Canaveral. I got a chance to climb inside a mockup (SpaceX CEO Elon Musk hates that term–call it an engineering qualification unit) at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorn, California last year. It’s big. Big enough for 7 astronauts. Standing in the center, I couldn’t touch the sides with my arms outstretched.

This first capsule, designated C1, for COTS-1, after the NASA program sponsoring it, will test out navigation systems in orbit and test reentry. Unlike any previous space capsule, the Dragon is designed for pin-point landings using powerful onboard thrusters. If all goes well, this one will splash down in the Pacific Ocean some time before the end of the year. Future capsules will touchdown on land.

Photo: SpaceX

This mission control center was a blank wall in a corner of the half-million square foot SpaceX facility when I last visited. These people are on a roll and they’re hiring like crazy.

SpaceX builds everything in-house, including the mighty Falcon 9 rocket and its nine designed-from-scratch Merlin engines.

Photo: SpaceX

The Dragon has already been mated to its rocket and the complete stack stood up on its pad for a so-called wet dress rehearsal, where all systems are tested for the countdown up to the moment of ignition.

Last step before launch, a static fire test where the rocket stays clamped to the pad while the engines fire.